Books that take a big picture theme and attempt to explain it clearly, preferably with a sprinkling of anecdotes, are in vogue. Alain de Botton recently brought us Religion for Atheists, while Sunstein and Thaler brought us Nudge, which proposed a ‘third way’ (while trying not to call it that) between paternalism and libertarianism. Amusing us with tales of insects painted onto urinals to encourage a sense of direction, they also took aim – in a more metaphorical sense – at behavioural economics, explaining how a cheese and wine party hosted by ‘Econs’ might turn out. (Fabulously for those who look primarily for efficiency as the sign of a good party, it would appear.)

Masters of Management, a fairly updated version of the earlier The Witch Doctors (an absolute classic, available from Amazon for £0.01 at time of writing, and still eminently readable), shares this ever-so-slightly-down-the-bridge-of-one’s-nose view of the labouring millions, as one might expect from a writer schooled by The Economist. There are one or two things that the reader has to take for granted -not least that this is a by-product of The Economist, and that free market theories will be politely and eruditely defended while egalitarian tendencies can expect criticism. But a few sacred cows are declared fair game along the way, and if not exactly slaughtered then at the least given quite a public carpeting. And the wider world also makes a welcome intrusion. Though it’s not the kind of book to use such a flippant example, were it to view, say, Cabaret through economists’ eyes, it wouldn’t stop at commenting on the skilful deployment of a low-cost pool of creative labour (the turns), the ironic brand-positioning (the band), and the approach to a potentially hostile demographic (selling drinks and ‘services’ to the SS). It would also point out that the rise of fascism and the advent of war was going to have a disastrous impact on more than just the bar’s P&L account.

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Language is a tricky affair: not such ‘slippery when wet’ as ‘slippery when used as a protective coating’. We’re all aware of the nightmares of jargon, and the insidious effects of euphemism: when you hear the word ‘review’ does your mind first think ‘excellent, an opportunity to analyse, re-assess and optimise’, or is it closer to ‘mmm, cuts on the way: must ‘review’ the finances when I get home’? It depends on the context, and who said the word ‘review’, but one person’s opportunity can quite easily be another’s crisis. It’s all in the telling.

As someone who tries to go through life with my ears open, it amuses me – admittedly, in a rather dry, wry fashion – that there are two words I hear quite frequently used in offices as examples of what someone is, in someone else’s opinion, failing to be. Those words are ‘professional’ and – more especially – ‘businesslike’. Both have dictionary definitions, of course, although they don’t necessarily help to understand how the words wind up being used in such an accusatory manner. We are all in the building because a) we’re being paid, and b) we’re invoicing people so that we can continue to be paid, aren’t we? If we’re forgetting those little fundamentals, it’s a miracle we remembered to change out of our pyjamas and managed not to put our jacket on inside out. But what do they really mean, and what are we omitting from their definitions that they would gain from including?

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Like any professional consultants (whether that consultancy is provided internally or – even more so – externally), the privilege of being selected to provided our service carries responsibilities. Some are mandatory in the strictest sense – the legal framework defines a range of liabilities and risks – while others are better categorised as ‘professional’ or ‘ethical’.

To maintain our standards (and the standards of professional bodes to which we belong, as we are proud to support organisations that work to define, maintain and drive up standards), we are committed to regular and ongoing professional development.  A further ethical concern is to recognise the boundaries within which consultancy is provided and presented: the opportunity to present ideas does not translate into a right to see them implemented. (Indeed, insisting too adamantly ultimately undermines the recipient client: effective consultancy should be based on mutual professional respect.)

As world leaders in promoting the criticality of ensuring the successful transfer and application of learning, coaching and OD interventions, we are seeking here to identify and encourage the achievement of best practice in this business critical area.

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Two counter-intuitive postings from around the wider world of the web, both on aspects of organisational culture and its impact on satisfaction, performance and sustainability … and on the things we chose not just to believe but to cherish. (For a full list of our favourite items, pointing you to gems of wisdom from the web, see our Crackers page).

  • The Second Biggest Lie in HR: All “A” Players is Possible Outcome… – The HR Capitalist looks at the prisons that HR practitioners can create for themselves, including waiting for the ‘perfect’ ‘A Player’ candidate when the job requires someone more … er, prosaic. As one commenting visitor pointed out, “Personally for my company I think I want the ditch diggers – coders, hackers, outre graphic designers, deep level video player designers. Not glamorous roles but core to my success.” So do divas belong on the payroll or the CD player?
  • Business Culture: Denmark vs USA vs Guatemala: The Chief Happiness Officer (we’re guessing self-proclaimed, although we’re admiring the job title) looks at differences in four aspects of working cultures and attitudes around the world (Power Distance Index, Individualism, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance Index, as evolved and refined by Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede) before drawing a few conclusion on the ideal balance. The CHO wonders how far Hofstede’s work illuminates the prominent positions Scandinavian countries traditionally enjoy in international surveys of job satisfaction, while his readers wonder how far these stereotypes hold up in the light of experience (perhaps slightly missing the CHO’s point?). In the meantime, I’m wondering how many jobs in Copenhagen don’t demand a working knowledge of Danish … 

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One of these days, someone will definitively inform us as to the exact percentage of people whose lives are diminished by exposure to statistics, or once and for all model the vectors that trace the relationship between industry surveys and people rushing to promote their service as the solution to their findings. But until that technology becomes available, we can all take the opportunity to polish our debating skills on the raw meat of the latest statistical insight.

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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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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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