February 27, 2011

Nordstrom and the SAS Institute

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , at 11:53 am by Sarah

This week’s readings were about two companies taking very different approaches to employee compensation and incentives.  Nordstrom’s sales per hour system of compensation sounds very unfair to me, especially having experienced the pains of working in the retail industry.  The big difference at the SAS Institute is that the sales system emphasizes customer retention rather than first-time sales.  Instead of a convoluted commission system like Nordstrom’s, the SAS Institute employees earn a flat hourly wage and enjoy tons of perks that benefit their families as well.  In short, Nordstrom employees perform well in order to get rewarded, while the SAS Institute employees perform well as a result of being made comfortable.

So which system is better?  One would think that the multitude of lawsuits against Nordstrom would answer that question, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that.  Certainly the SAS Institute would be a much better choice of environment for the average worker, someone who just wants to support their family without being on their feet all day and to feel like the employer actually cares about them personally.  But there is a small part of society that might actually choose Nordstrom’s environment, namely those who are already confident in their ability to outperform others and are willing to step on a few people on their climb to the top.  And I am all for keeping those kinds of people confined to the retail industry.

The problem is that they are not confined.  The SAS Institute’s philosophy of fairness and trust is a rare one in business.  The majority of companies can only see as far as their bottom line, and their company culture teaches employees that they have to be cutthroat in order to prosper.  I think this view of business is so widespread because it is the easy and cheap way.  It is short-term, low-investment, instant gratification.  But then there are a precious few companies like the SAS Institute and Southwest Airlines from the reading a few weeks ago, who favor a more long-term, nurturing, reap-what-you-sow approach to business.  These exceptions to the rule show that you don’t have to sell your soul in order to succeed in business or in life.

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February 23, 2011

Specialty Medical Chemicals

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , at 8:41 pm by Sarah

Last week we read about a company that was built from the ground up in a unique way.  This week’s reading is about an executive who was put in charge of an existing company and all its existing management issues.  I hate to keep comparing my own workplace to our many examples of what not to do, but I find once again that I see many of the same issues above me at work.  I look at our middle management and see managers who are in direct competition for attention and resources, not coming together as a cohesive leadership team.  Most of my peers have very little idea of what other teams in the company do, and it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.  Our review system is vague and not constructive.

I think it’s kind of a shame that the managers in the reading seemed to be biased against the new CEO before he even arrived.  I understand that it can be difficult to be open-minded when the departing leader has been doing things a certain way for a long time and you have no idea what a new leader will be like.  But I would think that high level managers in a big company would have learned at some point in their careers how to quickly get on good terms with the person they report to, at least on a professional level, if not a personal level.  To show disapproval like these managers did set them up for failure right from the start.

Bringing in an outside opinion to help with personnel problems is an interesting idea.  On one hand, a manager in a CEO position should ideally already know his own strengths and weaknesses and be able to determine the same in his direct reports.  On the other hand, the professional outsider was able to pin down traits in the CEO that he was not aware of himself, as well as traits in the rest of the leadership team that had not shown through to him because of his position.  No matter how this information is gathered, it is crucial to understand employees’ personalities if you are going to understand how they work together and how you can move them around to influence that working relationship.

February 16, 2011

Southwest Airlines: Using Human Resources for Competitive Advantage

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , at 3:57 pm by Sarah

This case about the complete saturation of company culture at Southwest Airlines was a very interesting read.  As the text says, companies all over the place say something along the lines of “employees are our greatest asset,” but how often do we see that sentiment put into practice?

I think a major factor in Southwest’s ability to maintain that company culture is that the company started out that way.  To change an existing company over to the kinds of processes that Southwest goes through would be a major overhaul and would upset a lot of people within.  Building a company from the ground up, however, makes it easy for the founders to set whatever precedents they want from the very beginning.

I get the impression from this reading that what makes business sense to other companies simply doesn’t make personal sense to Herb Kelleher.  I know what it’s like to be a victim of the cold corporate mentality, so I can really appreciate someone who bends over backwards for his employees, business be hanged.  He seems to understand that employees are people, not robots, and has gotten excellent work out of them by making them happy.

Southwest’s situation does seem impossible when viewed from within an average company, but this case shows how they’ve done it, and it all makes a lot of sense.  The part I’m not sure about is how this is supposed to help the average manager.  How could my manager, for example, ever hope to instill these things throughout our global company?  It would take a huge revolution, and I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t keep his job long enough to make it happen.  Rather than being inspirational, Southwest’s story serves as a reminder to the average worker that most of us are just cogs in the machine.

February 8, 2011

Extra Reading for Chapter Four

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , , , at 3:32 pm by Sarah

United Pilot Article

At my job, exceptional customer service is sometimes difficult to provide.  My team goes through the same process with almost every customer, and we use a lot of “canned” or pre-written emails to communicate with customers.  Occasionally, though, we do get inquiries that require some individualized attention, and I consider these to be opportunities. 

These are most often questions from customers who are unclear on our processes or are having trouble using our online tools, and though we often have similar answers, I try to make a point of exceeding the customer’s expectations by anticipating their next question or providing clear, step-by-step solutions to their problems.  More often than not, this extra effort will go unnoticed by customers.  But sometimes I do get a reply saying thank you, and just knowing that I have made someone’s day a little easier makes it all worthwhile.

Rules of Engagement

Speaking of my job, I have to admit I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes regarding the business benefits of employee happiness.  We do have some perks and some flexibility, but due to the nature of our business there are some pretty annoying aspects of the job as well.

As far as work-life balance goes, we are able to arrange for time off most of the time.  But during our busiest times of the fiscal month, everyone has to stay at work until their team’s work is done, sometimes late into the night, regardless of what is happening in their personal life.  I often wonder how employees with children at home are able to do this.  But I must admit that when our volumes are high at the end of the fiscal month, everyone hunkers down and gets focused, and things get done much faster because no one wants to be at work too late.  In our case, getting the job done is motivation in itself.

February 2, 2011

My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Results

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 4:30 pm by Sarah

I have taken the Myers Briggs personality test a total of three times in the last ten years, and each time had a different result.  This time around, out of eight possible points for each area, I scored eight for I and zero for E, three for S and five for N, and, interestingly, four points each for T, F, J and P.  My scores clearly favor the traits that I already knew I had, and are dead even among the traits I wasn’t sure about.

As a sophomore in high school I was reported as an INTJ- quiet and artistic, logical and focused.  I was serious about my studies and getting into college, and had little time or energy for anything else.  Several years later I had an opportunity to take the test again, and found I had mysteriously morphed into an INFP- more interested in peace and flexibility than in rules and plans.  In college I was studying the subjects I loved, and I had a whole new city to explore with my new friends.  In a word, INTJ was me under pressure, and INFP was me enjoying freedom.

I have been thinking about where I am in my life now and what effect that might have on my personality.  As I read about the different personality types, I kept a mental checklist.  It was easy to tell that I am most definitely introverted and intuitive rather than extroverted and sensing, as confirmed by my previous and current test results.  I prefer to work quietly by myself without interruptions, and greatly prefer communicating by email rather than by phone (I).  I love learning new things, and I am fascinated by the hows and whys of my world (N).

But evaluating myself in the other two areas was much more difficult.  Each of the four options remaining (TJ, TP, FJ and FP) seemed to describe a part of my personality, while also describing traits that are not me at all.  I make a habit of trying to think problems through analytically (T), but am also very empathic and care greatly for others’ feelings (F).  I get more done when I make a list of tasks for myself (J), but I get annoyed with people who are close-minded and inflexible (P).

So it seems I have to decide what personality type I am going to call myself.  The thinking trait describes me pretty well- I tend to think logically and have a strong sense of justice and fairness.  T and I part ways, however, when it comes to making the tough decisions and holding fast to the rules even at the expense of others.  The feeling trait, on the other hand, fits me perfectly.  I work hard to make sure everyone is happy and getting along, and I seem to have a talent for reading between the lines of what people say and sensing how they really feel.  The judging trait describes me in that I like to have a plan and a schedule, but I don’t like settling for only the essential information needed to make a decision.  Like the perceptive trait, I prefer to be aware of all the details of a situation.  I sometimes overthink things to the point of indecision.  I am also flexible and able to adapt to changes.

In the end, I think I have to settle on calling myself INFP.  I am not the carefree college student I once was, but as I become more successful in my adult life, I find I am increasingly free to live life at my own pace.  Perhaps I borrow strategies from INTJs to cope with difficult situations, but INFP seems to be the real me, at least for the moment.