April 29, 2011

The Men’s Wearhouse, Advanced Change Theory and Organization Silence

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , at 12:04 pm by Sarah

The Men’s Wearhouse reading paints a very rosy picture of life in the retail clothing industry.  Quotes from executives and middle managers are all about the fun resort trips and touchy-feely training meetings.  The one thing that I really liked was the idea that the best individual players don’t necessarily make up the best team.

Reading about the company’s philosophy on how they treat and mentor their employees was difficult for me.  My experience in retail has left me with a sort of cynical view of the industry.  I couldn’t help feeling like I was reading a lot of empty words.  But maybe it’s unfair of me to project my own past trauma onto the reading.

The Quinn, Spreitzer and Brown article on Advanced Change Theory was a very heavy read, though not the worst so far.  The biggest point here is that if you want to change your organization, you can’t just order it so and have it done.  You have to first change yourself if you want the fundamental spirit of change to be there in your organization.  I definitely agree with this, and with the steps lined out for clarifying your values, aligning your behavior to match and disregarding any penalties threatened from without.

Finally, the article on Organizational Silence hit a soft spot in me.  I have been in workplaces described precisely by this reading, and to get out of bed and drag yourself to a job like that every day is no less than soul-crushing.  Dramatic, yes, but that’s exactly how it felt at the time.

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April 21, 2011

The Layoff

Posted in BADM 720 at 10:49 am by Sarah

This was a very interesting reading because it not only described Astrigo Holdings’ predicament but also provided several professionals’ opinions on how to solve it.  My favorite of the responses was the one by Jürgen Dormann.

The first thing Dormann says is that the company had worse problems than their operating costs.  The various departments were not working together, the company’s board was completely absent, the one person who gave the CEO any valuable advice got a pat on the head in return, and no one had bothered to ask the employees what they thought.

This last item seemed to be the biggest thing in the response.  Dormann describes being at the helm of another company on the brink of disaster, and sending a letter out to all employees asking for ideas.  I was astounded to read that the company saved $1 billion in the next two years based on employee suggestions.

The other item in Dormann’s response that I really like is the idea that the CEO needs to be a model of the behavior he expects from his managers.  Executives considering laying off even a single employee have no business eating in private dining rooms or flying business class.  No one is entitled to spend company money on luxuries when it should be going toward saving someone’s livelihood instead.

April 18, 2011

The Treadway Tire Company

Posted in BADM 720 tagged at 3:13 pm by Sarah

This week’s reading makes the Treadway Tire plant sound like a plain lousy place to work.  The line foremen are expected to do whatever it takes to overcome factors out of their control in order to meet impossible productivity goals.  Once the witness account gets done telling the reader how awful it is to be a foreman at this factory, there is a quote from the plant manager saying that he tries to make up for it by hosting sports night at the neighborhood bar.  This seemed so ridiculous to me that it prompted me to use my highlighter for the first time on this reading, only to scribble a bright blue question mark in the margin.

It just seems to me that the time and money and effort spent on work-endorsed alcoholism could have been put to better use, perhaps actually improving the working conditions that drive the foremen to drinking in the first place.  Some ideas could include scheduling a reasonable eight-hour workday instead of a soul-crushing twelve, or making sure that the various teams around the plant have the equipment and staffing needed to do their jobs.

The other item in this reading that caught my attention was the part about how the foremen are trained.  The account says that they are told by former foremen that they simply have to be strict with their direct reports, that there is no other way to keep the rabble in line.  If this were a company practicing evidence-based management, they would instead be reading the research on management practices and encouraging the foremen to experiment and find a management style that suits them and their teams.

April 11, 2011

Level 5 Leadership

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , at 7:22 pm by Sarah

The first thing I noticed about this week’s reading was some odd language.  First: “Good-to-great transformations don’t happen without Level 5 leaders at the helm.  They just don’t.”  My statistics professor has been saying all semester that we never definitively prove anything in statistics; rather, we deal with a little thing called reasonable doubt.  So how does a professional business article get away with a statement like that?

Second: “I gave the research teams explicit instructions to downplay the role of top executives in their analyses.”  So they are deliberately gathering biased data to make the results say what the author wants them to say?  This flies in the face of everything I thought I knew about research, statistics, and not least of all, ethics.

My next thought was Who is this guy and how am I supposed to consider him an authority or even a scholar? This guy, I then noticed, is the (in)famous Jim Collins, author of the “Good to Great” piece of work that got slammed in our reading a couple weeks ago.  Now I understand.

Now that my attitude was affected by my previous knowledge of the author’s work, reading the rest of the piece only went downhill.  I ended up feeling like he basically took way too many pages to say over and over again that his favorite company leaders were ones that balanced extreme humility with an insistence upon exemplary work.  He should consider taking a few pages from his idols’ books.

April 6, 2011

Diamonds in the Data Mine and Rewarding Our People

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , , , , at 8:29 pm by Sarah

These two readings describe two great programs used by Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman to put the company at the top of the industry.  “Daimonds” focuses on the use of collected customer data to create the perfect customer loyalty program, while “Rewarding” is all about the collective bonuses used to reward improving customer service ratings.

The loyalty card program that Harrah’s used to collect information about customers is, of course, brilliant.  The tiered levels of customer rewards appeals to the customers’ sense of achievement, while every use of the card gathers data about customer preferences, all in one sleek technology.  The system is simple and streamlined, and it practically improves itself by telling the marketing department which incentives will be most effective.  I just have to wonder what customers would say if they knew their gambling habits were being recorded for the purpose of the company being better able to relieve them of their cash.

The other reading paints a clear picture of how the company lived up to its desire to be the pinnacle of customer service in their
industry.  While I personally dislike filling out those annoying customer surveys, there really is no better way to find out what customers want than to ask them.  It gives the business an objective, measurable way to examine how their services are being received.

Finally, the collective bonus system had its pros and cons.  Giving the same bonus to the entire department gives the team a common goal and promotes working together to achieve it.  Basing the bonus entirely on customer service scores ensures that employees will be focused entirely on improving that score.  On the other hand, one employee providing bad service can bring down the entire team.  The bonus itself is not that much, but it is a good gesture to show that the company is committed to recognizing employees’ hard work.

April 3, 2011

Evidence-Based Management and Good to Great

Posted in BADM 720 at 1:02 pm by Sarah

This reading’s Evidence-Based Management case I thought was a much better expression of what we read a couple weeks ago about the strategies of effective team leaders.  This case was first of all much easier to read, and more importantly, the authors were very clear about the points they wanted to make and gave some effective examples.  Unlike the previous reading, this case did a fine job of responding the question of why managers do not make use of the wealth of business knowledge available.  The answer, of course, is complicated, as there are many reasons.

I thought one of the most important sentiments expressed was that of embracing the attitude of wisdom.  Too many managers act like they already have all the answers.  After all, why else would they have been given their position in the first place?  But if they already know everything, then they can’t learn anything, and they will never improve.  “Cultivating the right balance of humility and decisiveness” sounds difficult, especially since one would most likely be the only person in the organization striving toward it, but the conscious effort would be so beneficial in all areas of life, not just at work.

The other reading about Jim Collins’ book Good to Great argues that the book is an example of how not to use evidence.  The authors’ main beef seems to be Collins’ use of data-mining; in other words, he looked at the information he had and saw what he wanted to see.  The right “evidence” can be used to argue for anything, but that doesn’t make it true.  Collins is also accused of mistaking association for causation.  Just because two events happen concurrently doesn’t mean that one event has caused the other.  The authors make their gripes pretty clear, and are careful not to commit the same mistakes themselves.

March 31, 2011

Extra Reading for Chapter 11

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , at 12:59 pm by Sarah

This reading was all about the social and psychological changes that afflict people finding themselves in positions of authority, particularly those who become deans in colleges.  I can’t say that I have much personal experience on this topic, never having known any deans personally, but I have definitely seen both good and bad examples of what happens to individuals when they are given power over others.

I’ve seen an employee at a chain pizza store be promoted to shift manager and suddenly start bossing people around unnecessarily while slacking off in the back office.  I’ve seen department store managers who are so bogged down in the logistic details of scheduling shifts and meeting quotas that they lose sight of what the business is actually trying to accomplish.  I’ve seen an entire workforce of employees who were given various promises in their interviews that were never delivered.

On the other hand, I have also seen professors take on the department chair position, without wavering on their commitment to education.  I’ve had direct supervisors who remember what it was like to be in an entry-level position at the company, and show it by looking out for their employees.  I do agree with the author that it takes a special kind of person to use the power they are given for good, but I like to think that those special people are less rare than they are given credit for.

March 27, 2011

Extra Reading for Chapter Ten

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , , , , at 3:34 pm by Sarah

“Groupthink” refers to the phenomenon which causes members of an organization to promote and act upon commonly held assumptions, even though individuals in the group may know on some level that those assumptions are false.  I think it is too simple to presume that the individuals are just afraid to be seen as going against the group.  While this may be true in many cases, my guess is that most of the time, individuals are not consciously aware that they are ignoring their better judgment or gut feelings until it is too late.  This reading provides a very striking and extreme example of the effects of groupthink.

The circumstances surrounding the intelligence that led our country to war in 2002 were sketchy even then.  The Senate Select Committee’s report states that the CIA relied too heavily on outdated information and the testimony of individuals who had personal reasons to influence the decision to go to war.  But a former CIA employee comments in the article that this is just an excuse, and that the decision to go to war had been made before the bad intelligence was gathered.  I would not be surprised in the least if it was found that Washington was simply sitting with its hand on its holster, waiting for any provocation to draw and shoot.

Conspiracy theories aside, it’s not a far stretch to deduce that the groupthink mentality was affecting the nation’s popular opinion at the time.  We had just been dealt a serious blow, and people were scared and angry.  President Bush’s “war on terror” was the first chance people had to take out their aggression, regardless of the weak justifications of the war or the fact that it wasn’t even Iraq that had attacked us.  Anyone who paused to question was called “unpatriotic” or “against us”.  In hindsight, and with my understanding of groupthink, I would not expect anything other than the surge of passion that carried us to war.

March 24, 2011

HCL Technologies

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , at 10:54 am by Sarah

This reading about HCL Technologies was focused on the difficulties with instituting change in a big company.  I thought HCL’s new president went about it in a very smart way, particularly when he traveled to the company’s branches around the world and got everyone involved, right down to the entry-level employees.  This was a huge project, but absolutely necessary for any real change.  The company had to be completely saturated with the new ideas, or else there would always be something holding them back.  (It would have been much easier to build the company in this way from the very beginning, like Southwest Airlines.)

Whenever a company says that they put their employees first, it is always interesting to see whether that will actually happen.  I may be a cynic, but it seems to me that in the vast majority of cases, this claim is empty rhetoric designed to make employees think they are being rewarded for their hard work.  The same goes for companies that claim to put customers first.  They only say that in the attempt to get more people in the door, and thus more revenue.  This reading did a poor job of showing how HCL put their employees first, but they must have done something right if their improvement in the market was enough to draw the authors’ attention.

I think the best part about HCL’s strategy is when the upper managers decide to post their 360 reviews for the entire company to see.  This kind of transparency is great, as long as it is accompanied by transparency of everything else going on in the upper levels of the company.  As an employee I would want to see the status of every decision that could affect my job, and I would want to see how the management collaborates with the people who will have to bear the consequences of those decisions.  Most companies simply hand their decrees down from on high, and I don’t think it’s out of line for employees (and consumers, for that matter) to demand better.

March 20, 2011

Strategies of Effective New Product Team Leaders

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , at 5:02 pm by Sarah

This reading was all about how problematic it can be for businesses to develop new products.  I believe the issues described are pretty common.  I’ve worked at lots of places where decisions are made without consideration for the people those decisions will affect, there is no visibility and information is withheld as standard procedure, and managers try to control every detail of the work rather than trusting employees to do their jobs.  It’s an environment that is self-perpetuating.  Employees don’t take ownership of their work, and they don’t have opportunities to make mistakes, which means they will never learn anything.

One of the more interesting questions posed by the article is why these problems are so common, when every manager seems to believe that they have the solutions.  Just because we know how to be effective leaders in theory, doesn’t mean we are effective in practice.  The article suggests that leaders have to transform their thinking, though the nature of this transformation was unclear due to excessive wordiness and unnecessarily complex vocabulary.  Personally I think this is a complex question to answer.  It’s hard enough for me to apply the things I’m learning for myself, much less tell someone else how to do it.

I think the most important thing that this article suggests is encouraging inter-departmental cooperation.  I always like to be able to understand the big picture, I try to be considerate of the roles that others play in our work, and I appreciate it when others do the same for me.  That sort of goes hand in hand with the suggestion that information needs to be disseminated quickly and freely from rank to rank, which has been a personal pet peeve of mine.

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