Monthly Archives: July 2009

Stefan Stern

Good morning. How are you today? I hope all is well in your world.

Sorry – I can’t keep that up. Social chit-chat matters, but I’ve got work to do. The question is: in our hurry to get things done, are we trampling over people’s feelings in an ultimately counter-productive way? Does rudeness have a cost? Should we try and be nicer to each other, more civil?

These questions are prompted by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath’s interesting new book, The Cost of Bad Behaviour, which I have reviewed for the Financial Times today. They have studied the hidden costs of incivility for many years. I think the book is well worth a look.

You can read my review of The Cost of Bad Behaviour here.

Stefan Stern

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! went the music and WAH! WAH! WAH! went my baby daughter. A party a few doors down was getting out of hand. It was 1.15 in the morning and time to take action.

“Wimbledon police station?” I asked, after dialling the number in the phone book. “Well, we handle their calls,” a man answered, slightly mysteriously. (Great: a call centre, just what I needed.) But no, sorry, they didn’t deal with this sort of thing. Try the local authority and its environmental health department instead.

I did. I pressed “3” to opt for help, and was put through to a tired-sounding person on the night shift. “Let me take a few more details from you, and somebody will call you back,” he said. “Can’t you deal with this?” I whined. “That’s not how it works.”

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

Stefan Stern

Chris Bones, the dean of Henley Business School, has just written this interesting article on leadership for The Economist. Note in particular his recommendation that no chief executive should receive a salary which is more than 20 times larger than that of the average employee.

Bold stuff. Will it catch on? What do you think?

Stefan Stern

We need to talk about strategy.

Now there’s a sentence guaranteed to crush the spirit of any senior management team. But business leaders ought to recognise, as they catch their breath after months of turbulence, that the strategy they were pursuing until recently is unlikely to be right for today.

It’s not just that markets have changed. Your organisation has changed. You may have all been through a near-death experience. Even if you avoided calamity, it is unlikely that colleagues are the same carefree people you remember from a year or two ago. Most businesses have been making serious cutbacks. Co-workers may be doing their best to look calm and positive. But they can see unemployment rising and know that sustained recovery is a long way off.

So, before even attempting to work out a strategy for changed times, leaders first need to acknowledge that their people feel differently about the jobs they are doing. This is not the same thing as bland reassurance, however. Virginia Merritt, managing partner of the London-based consultancy Stanton Marris, said last week: “One company chairman asked me: ‘How can I convince them that things will get back to the way they were before?’ I had to tell him that this was not the right way to come at the problem.”

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

Stefan Stern

England are playing Australia at Lords. The Open golf championship is on at Turnberry. After two disappointing years a warm English summer is expected. And meanwhile, back in the office, people are pretending to care about work.

Summertime, and earning a living isn’t easy. Oh I know, there’s a recession on, the risk of a double-triple-quadruple dip, life is terribly serious and we all need to work harder. I’m not arguing about that. It’s just that, come this time of the year, it is not always easy to take the suited, frowning, grown-up life so seriously.

A straw poll of otherwise mature and serious colleagues confirms that thoughts are beginning to drift, shall we say, to a world beyond the desk and the PC. This lack of professionalism and loss of focus can affect anyone, regardless of seniority.

Blame the school calendar. For most of us those early years, with their long summer holidays, establish a rhythm in our lives that no amount of grown-up work can ever break. From mid-July onwards, until September, the serious stuff just doesn’t quite seem to count. We become characters in our own private sequel to The Truman Show. The scenery looks the same, the dialogue sounds plausible, but our hearts are not in it.

Stefan Stern

Tomorrow morning sees the publication of the MacLeod Review, a UK government enquiry into “employee engagement”. Engagement is the jargony word used to describe workers who care about what they are doing and who believe in what their business or organisation is trying to do. (And who are not, like the Catherine Tate character – pictured below – “not bovvered!”)

Employee engagement is an X factor for successful businesses. It is where that other much-vaunted quality, “discretionary effort”, comes from. The MacLeod Review was set up to find out how widespread genuine employee engagement is in the UK, and what is preventing it from developing further.

Clearly, greater engagement is going to be needed to help drag the economy out of recession. The report is under wraps until Thursday 16th July, but I can exclusively reveal that the report’s core recommendation to government is that it should lead “a concerted effort involving all the stakeholders in the employment field, to raise the profile of this topic, so more and more people ‘get it’”. The authors – David MacLeod and Nita Clarke – propose “a national awareness campaign, facilitated by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).”

Some bosses may simply frown and say that they have no time for new initiatives of this kind. Others may feel that they “get it” already. But there can be little doubt that, as surveys confirm, the bulk of the British workforce feels disengaged, even at the best of times. So the need for greater awareness and understanding is clear. The report is being supported by WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, Sainsbury’s Justin King, Pearson’s Rona Fairhead [full disclosure - Pearson publishes the FT] as well as the head of the employers organisation the CBI and the trade union body the TUC.

British managers may have their heads down right now and could fail to pay enough attention to this report’s findings. That would be a mistake. Recovery will come from engaging the workforce more effectively. The MacLeod Review explains why this matters and suggests what managers can do about it. Seriously, it is time to engage.

Stefan Stern

Managers dream of discovering the new new thing. Innovation is on every business leader’s lips.

“We plan to launch more new products than at any time in our history,” wrote Jeff Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, in this newspaper last week. That’s 130 years of rather impressive history he is hoping to outdo.

The most fashionable concept in the world of innovation is the network – an outwardly focused group of people that helps to bring ideas into the organisation. Keen innovation networkers seek things that are “not invented here”.

But what if the answer to your quest for innovation lies closer to home, within the organisation? As Bain’s Chris Zook has argued for many years, some companies “may already hold most of the cards for a winning hand” but cannot see it.

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

Ravi Mattu

As we continue our strand of military strategy coming back into the boardroom (it wasn’t intentional but we obviously tapped into something in the management air). Our colleagues on the business education beat have picked up on a reverse trend – how retiring military officers are getting commercial business nous from an executive programmes at Manchester Business School.

Ravi Mattu

Love him or loathe him, there is no disputing that Robert McNamara, who died yesterday at the age of 93, had an extraordinary career and an amazingly brilliant mind. He is most famous (or infamous) for his role as secretary of defence during the Vietnam War but he was also president of Ford (only for a month before being tapped by JFK to be secretary of defence) and, after leaving government, president of the World Bank for 13 years.

In 2003, McNamara returned to public prominence with the release of The Fog of War, a brilliant Errol Morris documentary in which he had a series of conversations with Morris about his rise from humble origins to some of the most prominent positions in business and government. Follow the link and you can see some clips.

Ravi Mattu

Ok, so we don’t actually have any sort of world exclusive with anyone from Google (although today’s news that Google is releasing an operating system is, in management terms, a huge story and it would be a great time to have an interview with the company) but I borrowed the headline from the cover of the August edition of Wired UK magazine. I added the exclamation mark at the end to show just how much better our “world exclusive” is.

It’s an odd claim given that Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has been interviewed a few times on, and that there doesn’t seem to be anything especially new in this piece. But any interview with the people (Wired also spoke to Sergey Brin) who are at the forefront of a technology revolution at one of the world’s most interesting companies is worth reading.

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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