April 2010


Earlier this week, we wrote about Malcolm McLaren, a man who was very much the product of an art school education. Though a believer in individual enterprise, and a vendor/creator of clothing, films and music, it’s debatable that he saw himself as a businessman or a manager – what McLaren seemed most interested in was in promoting ideas (and provocation and forment too). One of the many things that were striking about him – especially in a man who worked in tailoring, and who understood the power of metaphor – was his approach to handling relationships. Although he famously said of the Sex Pistols – his main vehicle to fame/notoriety – that they were “like my work of art. They were my canvas”, his almost abstracted interest in ‘the event’ left him blindsided on the consequences for the human capital of his enterprise. Described by a man hired to ghost his autobiography (never to be completed) as “the Brian Clough of pop who should’ve managed England”, his enthusiasm for ideas and maximising the intensity of the moment – despite the testimony of his friends since his death of a capability for great kindness – lead to some stark accusation from the raw materials of his work of art: the people.

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A line from a song, of course: The Sex Pistol’s “God Save The Queen”, still provocative all these years on. And a line written by John Lydon, although it was hard not to think of it watching the television coverage of the funeral of Malcolm McLaren, his former manager and the human catalyst that brought punk to the streets of London in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year. For most people, that’s probably McLaren’s legacy in a nutshell: ripped t-shirts, Her Majesty with unusual nasal jewellery on a poster, and all the other little visual icons of that summer that you can still, remarkably, buy on postcards in many parts of London. But even at just a level of fashion, he left a bigger mark: describe someone as ‘punky looking’, as most of us have a pretty clear visual picture of what you mean. Not a bad achievement for a man with one little shop at the wrong end of the King’s Road. But there was more to McLaren than that: for good and bad, there are plenty of reasons to spend a few minutes looking back at his life now that it has ended.

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One of the challenges of any HR function is to be seen not as reactive, or dominated by a love of process and procedure (and of imposing them on other functions), but as a real player in the business that is there to deliver results. Even where HR functions have achieved this ‘modernisation’, the perception of the function elsewhere in the organisation may take some time to catch up and see this modified reality. Just as HR has a key role to play in developing the Employer Brand and the Employee Value Proposition (as we’ve discussed here, here and here), so it has the challenge of developing a learning brand that truly reflects – and projects – its real sense of its own purpose.

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We’ve recently received downloadable versions of a number of articles that members of the ASK team contributed to a variety of publications last year, covering topics that include transfer and application of learning, return on L&D investment, executive coaching and professionalism of service, employee engagement and the employee value proposition (EVP).

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Two contrasting stories from the wider world, one looking at an innovation in reward and recognition, the other looking through a glass (and rather darkly) at the implications for HR – and for organisations – of recruitment freezes. (The rest of our Crackers series is also available online.)

  • Dutch Companies Embrace Sustainability-Based Bonuses: the US-based This Is Good blog looks at the work of Netherlands-based paint and chemical company, AkzoNobel, who are awarding 50% of bonuses for traditional financial goals and 50% for contributions to sustainability. “So these bonuses aren’t just tied to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency upgrades, telecommuting, and other measures but they are also tied to eco-innovations. This allows the company to continue to spur creativity from their employees, which will, in turn, garner more attention from customers and even competitors.”
  • Brain freeze: The wonderfully titled My Hell is Other People is the blog of “British HR Director caught in a Sartrian nightmare and trying to see the philosophical side of life”. He or she may remain anonymous, but – like us in a recent post –  they are concerned about how public sector cuts in the UK will be implemented in practice, and how they can be as painful for those who remain as those who depart: “The idea of a recruitment freeze makes a number of assumptions, that all roles are equal, that all roles are interchangeable and that the right people will leave.  And that just doesn’t happen.  You either stick dogmatically to the freeze to the detriment of the service and the health and well-being of those that remain, or you have to exercise a degree of judgement.”

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We’ve added two more downloadable (PDF) files of press articles that have been published recently:

  • Does the Brightest CEO make for the best CEO, Business XL, April 2010 – including an interview with Robert Terry, ASK Manging Director, where he highlights the importance of transfer and application in closing the gap between training and workplace performance
  • From delegating to overtaking: the purpose of empowerment – HR Zone, April 2010 – Anton Franckeiss, ASK Practice Director, looks not just as the mechanics of empowerment, but at the methods that best suit its longer-term purpose: developing the next generation of leaders and senior managers and equipping them for tomorrow’s situations.

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As we are undergoing not just a turbulent economic time but a general elections campaign, it’s unsurprising that the air is thick with figures and statistics – and the conjecture of people attempting to draw conclusions from them. Here are some headline figures to be going along with from the forthcoming Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) 2010 Learning and Development Survey: only one in 10 employers (11%) expect training spend to increase in the year to come; funds for learning and development are decreasing in over half (52%) of UK organisations.

In an election campaign where all the major parties are campaigning on a platform of planned cuts (despite their terminological and accounting differences), ‘doing more with less’ is becoming a phrase du jour. (Were it more upbeat, I’d be tempted to call it a mantra …) I’m not about to insert any knowingly political comments, although I couldn’t help but notice that the CIPD press release also noted that “learning and training development departments’ headcounts have largely remained the same in the last year”. The responding organisations should be congratulated on the accuracy of their grasp of English grammar: the statement does suggest a potential lack of intention to ‘do more with fewer’ – although suppliers might be interested to note that 31% of respondents indicated that one of their major changes over the last year was “a reduction in external suppliers and a move to in-house provision”.

Back at the general election campaign, the possibility of a hung parliament is one of the major media topics that have emerged. I’m probably not the first to draw a comparison with conventional views on organisational leadership, but the prospect seems to divide commentators between those who are fearful of a world without a clear, single guiding vision (even one with what is, thanks to our electoral system, minority support) and those who are of the opinion that forcing our leaders to work together, overcome their disagreements and ‘lead together’.

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