June 2011

We’ve cringed about fairness before on this blog, mostly as it seems to have become a word our political leaders eagerly want to use but not to engage in debate about. While it’s possible to admire someone who knowingly embraces a challenging strategy, part of the problem of fairness is that it’s not only measured, it’s felt. (It’s also not the most easily measured abstract concept in the world either, prone as it is to conflicting readings of equally conflicting statistics.) These inherent difficulties do, however, need to be acknowledged: feeling that we are being treated fairly is a widespread human desire, and integrally linked with such important aspects of a harmonious, productive and successful organisation as trust and respect. It may be difficult to measure quite how the presence of these fluffy components turns into cold, hard cash, but their absence can cost an organisation dear in many ways.


We commented a couple of days ago on the Guardian’s HR: Friend or Foe article, and the rumpus that followed in the online comments posted. While the perception of HR still lags behind the fate of the daleks in the popular imagination, other bloggers in the HR arena have also taken note and we’d like to point you at two particular examples. (For other links to interesting blog posts across the web, see our Crackers page.)

  • Guardian article paints HR as ‘double-agents, The smiling assassins’: Michael Carty has been posting a series of updates to his own original article, tracking other responses and reaction across the blogosphere, and there are signs that CIPD may be encouraging The Guardian to write a follow-up article
  • So, HR Manager, just who are you working for? A response from Flip Chart Fairy Tales, in which blogger Rick firmly adopts the position that HR are employees like anyone else and the role is to achieve the best outcome for the organisation and make calls when commerce and ethics collide. Fair points, but as his own commenters point out, without influence and trust, HR departments will struggle to achieve outcomes: HR needs PR to achieve HR?

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Mon Dieu, Paris! Yep, it’s the episode where they spend about 36 hours abroad to show how multinational activity is just another imperative in the life of the thrusting young businessperson. Poor things are so rushed off their feet, they don’t even have time to pick up the Time Out Paris Shopping Guide as they charge through St Pancras International. (Couldn’t one of them faint a coughing fit to distract the minders’ attention while another one sneaks into Smiths? Maybe pick up a phrase book too? Where is their ingenuity? Perpetually unprepared, they might make fledgling entrepreneurs but they’d be drummed out of the Cub-scouts or Brownies faster than you can auto-translate’ woggle’.)

It was a fine week for epic howlers, even by the programme’s standards. Susan wondering if the French love their children or drive cars raised Karren Brady’s eyebrows so far they were in danger of leaving her body all together. Luckily for her, Helen chose the child’s combined rucksack and car seat as a winning product, delivered a smooth pitch and sold £200,000 of them to La Redoute. And Susan’s diminutive frame allowed her to personally demonstrate the seat, although whether this dismisses the traditional argument that winners need to demonstrate ‘bottom’ remains debatable.


If you need something slightly less brain-numbing to watch about the future of British Business, you can take a break from The Apprentice (I’d like to, but I’m expected to review it) and watch Evan Davis’ Made in Britain. In Mr Davis’ typical manner, it’s a sometimes awkward hybrid of several hundred years of economic theory condensed into a few minutes on one hand, and his idiosyncratic puppy-with-a-shaven-head presentation style, but it has its moments.

Some of them came as Davis strolled and lolloped through the corridors of GSK and ARM, respectively pharmaceutical and processor design behemoths of an economy he was keen for us to see as not constructed entirely of call centres and misery. (The series has a strong ‘all hope is not lost’ motif, although the motif did take a kick or two in China.) The companies’ respective spokespeople echoed the words of people such as Charles Handy and Steve Johnson, particulary in the multi-disciplinary nature of the teams striving at the bleeding edge of innovation (and at the innovative edge of medications to deal with all that bleeding).


This week’s task was all about breathing life into a tired media format where the Boston Matrix would reveal an over-abundance of Problem Children and Dogs: ‘freemiums’ – freebie mags that exist on advertising revenue as they’ve already calculated that no-one would pay to read them. There are many criticisms of The Apprentice – and I confess I’ve written quite a few of them – but you can’t argue that it isn’t generous in giving its critics copious ammunition to throw back at it.

Being reasonable (words they almost always indicate someone is about to be anything but, of course), this episode did see a drop-off in the verbal handbagging and Most Cliches Per Minute In A Taxi elements. It was, for once, rather less like seeing a plain dress version of It’s A Knockout: I actually made it through a full hour without my brain once thinking “Here come the Belgians!”. That said, the clangers still outnumbered the soupdragons fairly heavily: picking the over-60s as a demographic without reflecting on Lord Sugar’s date of birth, for starters.


Many films have trailers that do them slightly less than full justice. I was aware of Made in Dagenham, but even Mark Kermode’s listing of it as one of his Top 5 Films of 2010 didn’t get me past the trailer and into a cinema at the time. The involvement of the Calendar Girls director left me thinking that film might well be one of those films you label as ‘very British’ and ‘nice’, but might not pack the punch that it might have done.

Its appearance on DVD, the cajoling of some friends (of both sexes), and a quick Amazon order later, I finally spent 108 minutes in its company. And was very glad I did. Yes, it is ‘very British’ – there’s a down-home smallness to it, but appropriately so. Though fictionalised in parts (the central character, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins, is an amalgam of several real women), its narrative arc is a true story: in 1968, 187 ordinary working women really did set in train a real step in history.


There’s been quite a lively debate at Business Week, where two contributors – and a long list of commenters – indulged in some weighty mutual executive briefcasing (handbagging just didn’t sound right) in response to the question: “Multi-dimensional organisational design (Matrix) is the best way to restructure a business. Pro or con?”

In the Pro corner, Jay Galbraith argues for the value, inherent merit and – in today’s trading environment – the inevitability of the victory of a collaborative approach over a command and control variety. In the Con corner, Guido Quelle sees matrix organisations as painfully slow, lacking clarity and clear lines of responsibility. Verbal bruisings have been administered and received on both sides but there’s been no knock-out punch: anyone hoping to see the late, grand old man, Peter Drucker holding the limp wrist of one argument aloft and counting to ten would be disappointed.


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