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  The Senate Select Committee’s report states that the CIA relied too heavily on outdated information and the testimony of individuals who had personal reasons to influence the decision to go to war.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.

March 6, 2011

Arrow Electronics and Sins of Commission

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , , , at 11:36 am by Sarah

This week’s first reading was about the employee review system at Arrow Electronics.  The CEO was trying to get an idea of which employees to retain in an impending restructuring of the company, but this was complicated by the managers basically giving the same scores to every employee.  It seems to me there are a couple of things that could have been done to help.

First of all, the managers giving the reviews were only told that their comments would influence salary and promotion decisions.  Wanting to appear fair, the managers gave everyone the same ratings, thinking this would ensure that the employees’ compensation would remain equal.  If the managers had been told that their reviews would also influence whether the employee was retained or let go, they might have been more inclined to evaluate the employees more objectively, knowing that if they gave an employee a bad rating, they wouldn’t have to face that person at work for much longer.

Second, if reviewing and providing feedback is such an important part of the managers’ jobs (as stated by the vice president of human resources in the very beginning), then the managers should have been evaluated themselves on how well they performed that job function.  Those managers who gave the same scores to every employee should have been told that by doing so they were impeding the work of the human resources department, and should have been given a low score in that area of their own reviews.

Our other reading for the week cautioned against the dangers of using a performance-based compensation system in the first place.  The author’s bottom line was that if you offer a high enough monetary reward to employees for a particular performance indicator, those employees will do whatever they can to improve in that one area, at the expense of other areas of their jobs.  We have read in other places that money is not as much of a motivator as one might think, but this author’s examples contradict that.  I do believe that motivation is different for each person, so I am skeptical of anyone who says that any one motivator is or isn’t a major factor in all workplaces.