Monthly Archives: April 2009

Stefan Stern

Just got back from doing a short panel session at PR Week magazine’s conference on “strategic communications”. Interesting to hear what companies have to do now in terms of monitoring the blogosphere to stay in touch with consumers, critics, and the occasional fan.

Peugeot, the French car-maker, completely rethought its attitude to media monitoring a couple of years ago after experiencing product foul-ups in different countries at roughly the same time. The company discovered it had no central, co-ordinated approach to dealing with on-line comments and attacks.

A comms executive from McDonald’s (UK) showed how, with the use of masses of (expensively gathered) data, the company started to fight back against the commercially damaging bad publicity and comment it was constantly getting. The company has certainly turned a corner.

No doubt about it: attacks can pop up any time, any place, anywhere. Monitoring all that noise is an increasingly important, full-time job.

Stefan Stern

“Blue is the colour, football is the game,” as Chelsea fans like to sing. Tonight their team is playing Barcelona in the semi-final of Europe’s Champions League in the Catalan city’s Camp Nou stadium. But here’s the thing. The guys from London are being coached by an interim manager.

Guus Hiddink, Chelsea’s temporary boss, was brought in by Roman Abramovich, the club’s Russian owner, in February, after the sudden dismissal of his predecessor. Mr Hiddink, who was already manager of the Russian national team, agreed to look after the Chelsea side until the end of the season in May.

Once he was installed, the team’s flagging performances soon picked up. Talented players, who had seemed flat and uninspired under the former manager, began to look like superstars again. After a brilliant victory away at Liverpool this month one sports reporter declared: “The Hiddink effect is looking like something close to alchemy.”

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Stefan Stern

Susan Cramm on how “sudden” failures happen gradually.

Bob Sutton wonders about the ongoing debate on the future of business schools.

Tom Peters wrestles with some demons.

Seth Godin asks: how easily can you slow down if you want to?

Stefan Stern

Just back from a (not very long) break today, and am still trying to catch up with e-mails and other “data” that has come in over a ten day period – which included Easter.

Does anyone have any good time management/efficiency/Getting Things Done tips to share? There just seems to be more and more stuff being generated all the time. Going away is getting dangerous. You daren’t come back.

Stefan Stern

Spring is a season for hope and renewal. All that stands between us and an end to gloom and doom are…the facts. But perhaps it is time to give optimism a try. Perhaps all the negativity is being overdone. Clearly, it can be self-fulfilling. Leaders should not be moping about, feeling sorry for themselves and spreading misery.

According to Peter Shaw, a partner at the coaching consultancy Praesta, when one chief executive asked his chairman what was the most important thing he should be doing at a time like this, his answer was: “Smile”.

Wishful thinking is no use. It is irresponsible. But there may be grounds for more positive thinking. Here are four reasons for managers to be cheerful.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Stefan Stern

The management blog is having an extended Easter break and will leap back into action on April 20 – although my column for April 14 will be published here in the interim.

Now I’ve just got to write it.

Happy Easter, Pesach, or whatever other festival you may be observing.

Stefan Stern

For those looking for work in these troubled times, there is good and bad news. On the positive side, there are at last “British jobs for British workers” as migrant labour heads home. The bad news? The vacancies include meat packing, sorting potatoes, grating carrots, cleaning, and – the least bad options – working as a retail assistant or in a fast-food restaurant. In Spain, strawberries are being harvested by Spaniards for the first time in years. “Picking strawberries is the last resort, but it’s all there is,” said Jose Maria Gomez, a 29-year-old former construction worker, in The New York Times last month.

As one employment agency manager told this newspaper recently, a new type of job-seeker has emerged. “It’s what I’d call older, middle-aged people who have been in work for 10, 15, 20 years in one place,” she explained, “and now with the climate as it is, they are made redundant and are willing to take on anything. It is heartbreaking.” It is sad seeing highly skilled people being forced to take on semi or unskilled jobs. But while such work may be back-breaking, is it really “heartbreaking” as well? Having a good job – that is, interesting work in civilised conditions – is clearly preferable to having a bad one. But better a miserable job than no job at all.

So with unemployment rising just about everywhere, it might seem an odd time to start a debate on “good work”: what it is and to how create more of it. That is what the Smith Institute, a London think-tank, has done, launching a pamphlet* on the subject at a seminar last week.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Stefan Stern

Hold on to your mangoes. Innocent smoothies, the almost saintly drinks company, has sold a minority stake to Coca-Cola, (ageing) symbol of corporate America.

Cue angst and outrage from the anti-globalisation lobby. But look at this from Innocent’s point of view. They need the money (£30m in this case) to expand in Europe. Coca-Cola does know something about distribution. It is a minority stake – around 20 per cent of the company. It need not mean the death of the Innocent dream.

Of course, people said that when Cadbury took a tiny minority stake in Green and Blacks, the ethical/organic chocolate maker, in 2002. That minority became 100 per cent ownership three years later.

But this is business, not charity, and you need capital to expand. Get used to it.

PS  Of course, Innocent has been here before. In 2007 the company experimented by distributing its products through branches of McDonald’s. It abandoned that idea. But Innocent knows what it is getting into second time around.

In the final instalment of our debate between Colin Mayer and Henry Mintzberg on shareholder value – is it, as Jack Welch recently suggested, a “dumb idea”? – Prof Mintzberg responds:

I share Colin Mayer’s concerns, but not how he believes they should be addressed. Yes, we have issues that have yet to be dealt with by the public and private sectors. And yes, we need to open up our institutional designs. But Prof Mayer’s proposals are too narrow for me. These are all rooted in ownership of one kind or another, in “the context of the modern corporation”.

Beside the public sector, which cannot be dismissed (is not Oxford University a state institution?), there is a third sector, which gets ignored – in good part because of this very label for it. I prefer to call it the “social sector,” and see it as one of three legs of the stool on which a balanced society has to sit.

The social sector comprises organisations that are either cooperatively owned (Prof Mayer does mention mutual organisations, but seems to see them in the context of the corporation – I don’t), or else they are non-owned. Examples of the latter are Greenpeace (to use ones from the environment) and perhaps the hospitals that are being shifted to trust status in England (to use one from healthcare).

At their limits, governments can be crude and markets can be crass. (Downsizing, for example, often amounts to an effort to maintain shareholder’s earnings at the expense of workers’ livelihoods. By the way, I have never met a “poor investor”.) One or other may be fine for certain activities (raising taxes, trading cotton), but not for many others. Indeed, the very policy issues Prof Mayer cites – environment, health care, and poverty – are precisely where the social sector is the most useful. I don’t want my healthcare delivered by a business, no matter how “modern”, any more than by a government. I appreciate funding by the latter, for the sake of equality, and often supplying by the former, for the sake of efficiency. I just prefer that my healthcare be delivered by the social sector, for the sake of quality. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the vast majority of hospitals in the United States are non-owned.

And since we are opening up the variety of organization, let’s also open up their internal workings. Dean Mayer wants to “re-establish confidence in those who are charged with leading and running our organizations.” Fair enough, but nor far enough. In fact, I think leadership is now the problem: too much of it is narcissistic, and we are overly obsessed with this one element of organizing. As I have earlier (FT, October 23, 2006), we desperately need more “communityship” in all our organisations, especially in the private sector.

So, using Prof Mayer’s own phrases, there is in fact a great deal to stop the modern corporation, with any structure, new or old, from dealing with many of our greatest concerns. And shareholder value will never be aligned with the wide range of true human values in any decent society, because there is a great deal more to us as human beings than ownership.

So: one cheer for the private sector. Another cheer for the public sector. And finally, one clear cheer – but please, a little louder – for the social sector.

Stefan Stern

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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