Doing it right

I am reading a fantastic business book at the moment, which I heartily recommend: Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. He says a lot of brilliant things about business and no doubt I will keep coming back to this book in future posts.

One thing stands out in a chapter on management. Meyer talks about putting ‘a premium on outward and unequivocal messages of approval’, and cites Kenneth Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, saying that it’s the manager’s job to

catch people in the act of doing things right

A less enlightened approach to people management would have it that the manager is there to make sure staff don’t mess things up, or don’t get away with a sub-standard performance. As if, when the boss is away, the mice will just slack off and do a rubbish job and then head to the pub for drinks and a moan about work.

I subscribe to the more ‘Theory Y’ idea of management, that people are inherently motivated to do a good job. We all have bad days, but no-one really gets up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to do a terrible job today.” That is, unless something has gone really wrong in their relationship with their workplace or all motivation has died a horrible death.

Deep-down, people want to do good work but above all they want to be recognised for it. The best feedback I ever received was from a senior manager at a Japanese firm who, on his way to a meeting, came up to my desk clutching a printed copy of an email I’d just sent him advising on a tricky employment issue, and, brandishing it in my face said: “This – is good.” In his rudimentary English, he had made my day. With only a few words, he had valued and recognised my work more than any at-length appraisal meeting could have done.

Danny Meyer’s take on this idea is to extend it by requiring his managers to not only catch somebody on their team doing something right, but to tell him about it so as the CEO of the company he can personally let that person know the work was noticed and provide encouragement himself. To be recognised for good work is great, but to be singled out by the boss’s boss as doing a great job, is a genuinely powerful motivator.

Quite often managers can stop at trying to ensure their own success, and will take praise for themselves when things go right. To truly enhance your staff motivation and secure genuine commitment, you need to outwardly demonstrate positive reinforcement. Don’t just expect your staff to do things right, make it your mission to catch them at it and let them know!



With today’s publication of the UK Equality & Human Rights Commission’s report on pregnancy and maternity in the world of work, comes a new online resource from the EHRC on managing pregnancy and maternity in the workplace, as part of their #worksforme campaign.

Along with any news story that talks about discrimination and employment rights of pregnant women and new mothers come the usual below-the-line comments on how tough it is for small businesses to manage. I wouldn’t argue that it isn’t tough for small businesses for a lot of reasons, but when it comes to pregnancy and maternity (and, increasingly, paternity) in the workplace, this resource would be a good place to get up to speed with managing it all better. And it’s a fantastic resource for employees too.

EHRC infographic - are you a 21st C employer

EHRC infographic – are you a 21st C employer?


The WHAT not the when or where of work

CIPD/ACAS have produced a report on the workplace trends for 2015  (summarised in this handy infographic). There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, but one point that stood out to me straightaway  is their advice that employers should:

focus on output rather than ‘when’ and ‘where’

That is, why not make the work itself the focus of management, and not the hours put in or the location?

Many managers assume that if we allow workers to choose their own hours, people would slack off and do the minimum possible. But I don’t believe that is true. If workers are given responsibility to choose their own start and finish times – rather than being kept to an one-size-fits-all 9 to 5 rule – they will end up working regular hours. People like regularity, but they don’t necessary like being told where to be or when. If managers stopped treating work like school and allowed employees the flexibility to work how and where suits them best, those employees would quite likely respond by doing just that: their best work.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones wrote in the Harvard Business Review in May 2013 on ‘Creating the Best Workplace on Earth‘ and one of their 6 imperatives was that people aren’t hindered by ‘stupid rules’. In many jobs established working hours are a necessary thing, but we could say that in a lot of office work, and many jobs in a city like London, the conventional workplace rules around attendance are quite outdated now we have the means to work anywhere and anytime.

Focusing on ‘output’ is how a company like Netflix can allow their people to take as much holiday as they like, or Automattic’s staff to work wherever they want.

If we could move away from the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of work we could do a lot more than satisfy workers. We could spread out commuting patterns and do away with crazy rush hours in cities where transport infrastructure is creaking under the strain of commuters moving altogether twice a day. We could do away with a long hours culture based on presenteeism in the workplace, and provide more time for workers to spend with their families or communities.


Bad meetings


Ah, meetings: the scourge of the productive, and friend only to time-wasters or lovers of biscuits. I used to work for an NGO, and I know only too well the havoc that can be wreaked by endless meetings leaving no time to do any actual work. Sometimes we would have meetings to talk about when to have meetings.

Yuki Noguchi writes for NPR this week on why the workday is so full of meetings and I can really relate: meetings taking too long, meetings with no real purpose, participants there in body but not in mind, notebooks full of doodles, etc etc.

I now work for a Japanese employer, and the meeting culture is very different. Meetings in Japan are held to confirm decisions already made elsewhere (by a process known as nemawashi – quietly getting approval by approaching decision-makers informally much earlier on). This can really confuse Westerners who generally turn up to meetings expecting to have a cup of tea and a chinwag about something, and not to mention bad for your career once you realise you’re only there to rubber-stamp something that has been agreed without you. But on the plus side it does mean you’re less likely to be stuck there for hours wondering what the meeting is about. The other good thing about Japanese meetings, at least those involving very senior managers, is the bento boxes.

I say those calling the meeting (in any culture) should be upfront about what the meeting is about. If you were told: ‘I have no goal in mind for calling this meeting, but I just feel the need to have a chat and a catch-up. Oh, and there will be biscuits and coffee.’ Then at least you would know what to expect on getting there. And you needn’t worry so much about making intelligent input. But in that instance you should be allowed to politely decline without any damage to your working relationships. And then go home on time for once.

Women! Don’t ask for a raise.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has apologised on Twitter for being ‘inarticulate’ in answering a question on how women in the IT industry should go about asking for a raise. Speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, his advice was that women should trust ‘the system’ to deliver the right salary and earn trust from their employer and that not asking for a raise was ‘good karma’.

Equal pay campaigners would beg to differ with Nadella, and understandably, his comments have caused something of a furore on social media. Is this another indication that the tech industry is not all that open to women?

The fact remains that women are paid less than men, and this is often attributed to their reluctance to negotiate on salary. But as the New York Times points out, women often fear being penalised for asking for a raise.

I suppose Nadella would also think it ‘good karma’ for women in many industries to sit back and quietly wait for a seat on the Board? The System seems to be taking an awfully long time to deliver that one for women also. Continue reading

Unpaid internships

Something that irks me in my work at the moment is confusion about internships and the assumption certain employers (or managers) have that just by calling something an ‘internship’ you can get someone to work for you for free.

Minimum wage rules in countries such as UK and US mean that work should be paid. An internship is only unpaid if it is for a structured educational experience or training, emphatically not work that you should actually be paying someone to do. Minimum wage applies when an employment relationship exists so employers should be aware of what constitutes an employment relationship – and it’s not just about whether the individual has signed an employment contract.

Workers themselves appear to be similarly unaware of these regulations, and maybe this is why so many unpaid internships blatantly abound. The US Department of Labour has criteria for what can constitute an internship that is unpaid, for example, it should be for the benefit of the intern, it should be a similar type of training as what is given in an educational environment, the intern is not entitled to a job at the end of it etc.

Reasons to enforce these regulations are quite obvious: work should pay, and young workers looking for experience in a difficult job market should not be exploited. Also, the use of interns should not displace paid employees. However, a lot of organisations in particular industries seem to rely on the use of interns to get work done (a look at the vacancy pages of certain smaller NGOs or organisations in creative industries will show you that).

But certain high-profile cases have been in the news recently around their mis-use of interns, so maybe the tide is turning, e.g. Sheryl Sandberg was criticised for advertising for an unpaid intern, and Alexander McQueen’s office came under fire from the president of University of Arts London (for which Alexander McQueen is an alumnus) for advertising a 6 to 11-month long unpaid internship for which they later apologised.

What can be done about this? I would argue that it’s for HR professionals to challenge managers’ incorrect assumptions and educate their organisations on the difference between a paid work placement, and an unpaid internship. Several organisations offer guidelines on work experience and internships, such as Creative Skillset and CIPD in the UK.

It hasn’t always been the case that internships should be paid, as Lucy Kellaway points out in her work on the history of the office. See also Herbert Pocket’s attempts to find work in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. But our minimum wage regulations are an important part of current employment legislation, and we need to work hard to uphold them.

We don’t need to eliminate unpaid internships entirely as they do provide important professional opportunities for young people starting out in work, gaining experience of different working environments and industries. But ultimately work should pay.

Ironing Solutions for Cyclists

Even a hire bike will wreak havoc with your work wardrobe...

Even a hire bike will wreak havoc with your work wardrobe…

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I have a tendency to talk about jazzy companies with youthful workforces and flashy offices, and not without a dash of jealousy as I work in an air-conditioned glass box in the City of London and we don’t have a slide. Or a place for naps.

I did come across this little gem this month from Innocent Smoothies proclaiming the latest addition to their office: an ironing board.

I’m a cyclist, and I quite often have the same problem they describe: turning up to meetings with wrinkled clothes, or having to take public transport when I’m interviewing and I need to wear a suit. The thing about me however is I mostly buy clothes that don’t show the wrinkles so much so I don’t really lose much sleep over it. But my other half, who also cycles to work, keeps dry-cleaned shirts in a cupboard in his office, and he has to take the bus when he carries in a fresh batch of laundered and pressed shirts. What would an ironing board in the office mean to his working life, I wonder? How much money – and time – saved by not taking the bus and spent ironing in the office instead? And how much inspiration to be gained from those moments away from the desk when you’ve nothing to do but iron and think?

However, one thing that did dismay me from the Innocent Smoothies blog is the picture of their ‘office angel’ (intern?) modelling said ironing board in the above post. Does this mean that their intrepid supply chain guy is not doing his own ironing? Big shame.