The realm of perceptions is full of blurry lines. Where does “young and energetic” turn into “cocky?” On the flip side sits “wise” versus “old and out of touch.” I always feel old writing about what “young people” can do to improve their effectiveness in engaging different stakeholder groups, especially through technology. Engaging through technology is pertinent to anyone in business.
This week in column in the Financial Post (“Is it time to kill the company newsletter?” Sept 22, 2009), Carolyn Ray suggests that a generation gap exists between old-tech Boomers and all-tech Millennials in the adoption of social media tools within organizations. One of the big challenges is that managers do not engage in dialogue. I will suggest the significant responsibility to foster dialogue sits with the younger side of the conversation.
I am not sure that the younger set “gets” the importance of courtesy and diplomacy that their older colleagues and managers place on written communications, especially in the absence of a strong relationship to buffer direct criticism. I had an example of such behaviour in one of my classes. Early one semester, a student wrote me a quipped attack on a core theory and used Mariah Carey as a case in point. We had a “dialogue” with short exchanges, and I know that I allowed the back-and-forth to continue longer than a Senior Exec would have (Teaching in a business school is not the same as running things!). I am not sure the student appreciated the impression created, which was largely negative.
Much of the discussion around generational differences points to how younger people behave differently (or business is different) and we older people have to get used to it. I agree with that to an extent; we are all time starved and technology like smartphones, o2 broadband and netbooks can provide very quick communication. That said, a bit of old-fashioned respect and courtesy can help such communication to be more effective.
For respect and courtesy to come across in e-mail, the writer can add such things as “Dear so-and-so” and “Sincerely,” although I will suggest it is more about taking the time to think through what you want to say. Writing can embolden. This is great if an idea emerges that would not come up in a large meeting. The effect is less for half-baked suggestions and criticisms.
Collaboration in the workplace is essential. Managers and leaders who do not engage in the dialogue will find themselves dangerously outside it. The success of workplace collaboration, and the success of the organizations, can come from savvy youngsters who woo the change with old-fashioned manners, and the courageous oldsters who are open to dialogue, no matter what the medium.
En route to a meeting this morning, I found myself listening to CBC Radio One’s The Current and a discussion of flu preventation/pandemic preparedness. Today’s discussion explored mandating flu vaccines for health care workers. One expert, Dr. Alison McGeer, the Director of Infection Control at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, makes the very general comment, “Nobody likes to be told what to do.” As it turns out, this may be the biggest issue in play for this particular discussion.
Complementing Dr. McGeer’s insight, was New York State Health Commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, whose state has adopted mandatory flu vaccinations for those in the system who come in regular contact with patients. The scientific evidence appears to be compelling, and demonstrates the correlation between vaccinated health care workers and reduced impact of flu on society. Neither doctor relied solely on the scientific evidence because both, I assume, realize they are up against a less rational “you can’t make me” reaction to the word “mandatory” (or “forced,” if you want stronger reactions).
Their counter arguments were excellent, and I am curious whether or not this came through media training, or simply understanding how to diffuse a particular line of questioning. Here are two examples of note (paraphrased):
Dr. McGeer, in response to concerns about limiting freedom of choice: “If you are a pilot with a heart condition, you are not given the choice to continue to fly.” (Score more points for the analogy!)
Dr. Baines, in response to concerns about over applying the rules: “We have reasonable people in our institutions; they will implement this in a reasonable way.”
In contrast, I think that the support given by Linda Haslam-Stroud is the President of the Ontario Nurses Association was very weak, suggesting the idea is good, but stressing that choice is important without much support. I am not sure if this was a lack of media training/preparation, or if it is simply much more difficult to support the “you can’t make me” side of this argument.
Interestingly, in New York and other areas that adopt this practice wholeheartedly, the people can retain their right to choose, with the choices being (1) get a vaccine and keep working, or (2) don’t get a vaccine and take some unpaid time off. So, you see, “you can’t make me” is indeed correct!
Spending scandals are always good news stories; the best, of course, involve taxpayer dollars. There seem to have been a lot of them lately. One such story this week, involves the RCMP planning to spend $200K on the leadership development of three of its officers. Interestingly, perhaps, the issue this twigged with me is “what do you charge for these type of services?”
I recently had a conversation with a former professor and colleague of mine a Schulich Business School, and we agreed that one of the biggest challenges for providers of professional services (like me!) is pricing. The formula involves trading time for money: hours or days spent either with the client or in preparation. Time spent on the latter has more latitude because, as my client, you won’t know exactly how much time I have spent preparing. I will suggest that in most cases there is a reasonable range, which is usually driven by the size of the project and the available budget. The resulting agreement ensures that you, as my client, get value for money and that I, as the provider, receive compensation that allows me to stay in business with a manageable schedule (e.g. not working 90 hours a week, 51.5 weeks a year).
A recurring stat in my profession is that employers spend on average $1200 per year per employee on training and development. Some will receive a much higher investment in their skills and abilities, and those are the ones that most providers like me hope to train. I am not sure of the upper limit of the reasonable range for an individual’s training allowance, but I think it is considerably south of “$200K for three people.”
What happens when the buyer fails to enact the “reasonable range”? The current levels of scrutiny on such spending, as well as the strong trends toward forced transparency, may eliminate these situations completely. Until that happens, individual ethics will dictate how much time makes into onto the invoice. Let’s call this “micro governance.” I think that it can cover for any governance/oversight that may be lacking in the always imperfect systems. Ethics or no ethics, for the sustainability of both sides, the reasonable range is the safest place to be. I hope we can continue to find it.
If you read this column, you will know by now that I have a very soft spot for analogy. My favourites involve the restaurant industry, and to guard against diminished impact from overuse, allow me to share one from a client of mine, who is enamoured with sports analogies. He explains a relatively recent switch in his and his agency’s role:
“We used to be like hockey referees. If things were working, people barely knew we were there. Occasionally we would be called in to work on problems, but there was often clarity about what should happen. These days, we are baseball umpires and are constantly being asked to call ’strikes’ and ‘balls’ in situations where things are happening fast and in front of many spectators.”
The difference in the impact of the authority of officials is stark between hockey and baseball (leaving national orientations aside). In hockey, a referee is unable to see everything because the action is so constant. In most instances, no action on the part of a referee is an acceptable response. There is an expectation that less-serious infractions and breaches will be ignored, and that occasionally a major breach will slip under the radar (for example, if it happens behind the play). In instances where a potentially game-changing decision is required, such as with a disputed goal, the lines are very clear and the maximum impact – one goal – is usually surmountable for the other side.
Baseball umpires, on the other hand, have a nearly omniscient view of the field of play. They are constantly required to make binary decisions – i.e., in or out (watch this clip for the frenzy created by delayed calls). One of the most-important criteria for an umpire’s decisions – the vertical strike zone from the player’s shoulders to knees – changes with every batter, plus the ball travels at highway vehicle speeds and only very recently has support been allowed through instant replay. “Game-changing” calls routinely become “game-ending” (e.g., how rare is a bottom-of-the-ninth third out on strikes?)
In the working world, which would you rather be?
A straw poll would likely show a preference for refereeing, but I will suggest that many organizations need the calls made by umpires. There are steep potential downsides to “no action” as a response to a situation:
- Delays that cause missing a window of opportunity
- Diminishing perceptions of the person’s ability/leadership
- Deflating employee spirits as “analysis” continues seemingly forever.
From my involvement with supply chain professionals, I’ve found that they often make up the group that has the best view of the “field of play” and may be in a good position to make (or initiate) a positive “game-changing” decision that takes into account wider implications. The criteria for success, like the strike zone, may need some clarification to maintain the quality of the decisions and garner necessary support.
The other thing to point out, before the analogy goes too far, is that the best decisions come when the “us against them” dynamic is altered toward collaboration. This is why I still prefer the restaurant stories.
THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE AUGUST NEWSLETTER OF THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (www.canadiansupplychain.org)
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