Adam Jones

In the workplace, green issues used to be the preserve of activists. Now they are drawing in careerists too.

By factoring sustainability into their day-to-day decision making, managers can gain plaudits from their bosses. Reducing waste, for instance, is a great way to cut costs in a recession. Many companies are also looking to profit from green-tinged government spending plans.

In a new FT Management podcast, Andrew Shapiro of GreenOrder, a sustainability consultancy that helped GE craft its ‘Ecomagination’ strategy, explains why middle managers can profit from a policy of enlightened self-interest when it comes to the environment.

You can listen through the FT’s podcast player or through iTunes.

Adam Jones

My former colleague Charlie Pretzlik provoked an outraged response from some readers when he trashed Ayn Rand in a 2007 comment piece.

The intervening years have only strengthened his thesis, however, as illustrated by a new article on the BNET.com site entitled ‘Why Do CEOs (Still) Love Ayn Rand?’.

Elswhere:

Adam Jones

Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at PR firm Weber Shandwick, has emailed me three tips for companies that want to escape the general revulsion felt for big business in a recession.

I paraphrase:

  • Handle job losses fairly and transparently;
  • Emphasise how safe your products and/or services are;
  • Engage with bloggers and those who post comments on blogs.

To illustrate tip number one, she cited as a model of straightforwardness Howard Schultz’s recent memo to Starbucks staff announcing layoffs.

Hmm: I’ve seen worse, but his prose didn’t exactly strike me as a model of plain speech, particularly when it talked of the need to “aggressively re-architect our cost structure” (he does, at least, spell out elsewhere in the memo that this means cost-cutting).

When I raised these concerns, Ms Gaines-Ross stood by her initial judgment:

He coupled the corporate-speak with attention to why the company needs layoffs, how he intends to keep the company’s founding values and employee benefits.

She said it was also interesting that the internal memo was published on the internet for the world to see, meaning that there was no need for leaks or innuendoes.

Any thoughts from the floor?

Adam Jones

Harvard Business School runs a week-long course that helps mothers return to paid employment after taking time out to look after a child or children. It’s called ‘A New Path: Setting New Professional Directions’ and costs $5,000.

On behalf of those mothers whose budgets won’t stretch that far, I asked Professor Tim Butler, the course leader, for some free advice in a new FT Management podcast.

Declaring that active parenting is “project management with a capital P and a capital M”, Prof Butler nonetheless suggests that it can be useful for stay-at-home mothers to do voluntary work in order to keep their CV or resumé relevant.

Among other pieces of advice: keep networking. Yes, that’s easier said than done given the time constraints faced by full-time parents, but it can make professional re-entry a lot less daunting.

You can listen to our conversation through the FT’s podcast player, through iTunes or by just clicking this direct link to the MP3 audio file.

Adam Jones

Italy’s Alessi is a master at using imaginative design to transform everyday objects such as kettles and toilet brushes into beautiful luxury goods.

Alberto Alessi, the design house’s CEO, applies a mathematical model to figure out whether a prototype will succeed in the marketplace.

In an interview with McKinsey (registration required), he says the first component of the formula is the degree to which a person would say “oh, what a beautiful object”.

The second is the extent to which customers could make use of the object to communicate their definition of themselves to others (i.e., show off).

The third and fourth components of the formula — and he rather glosses over these, it must be said — are function and price.

The formula doesn’t work for everything. But when we have a long history with a product, it works perfectly. If I have to evaluate a pot or a coffee maker or a kettle, for example, the score indicates exactly the number of pieces that we can sell.

The system certainly seems to produce new products that have a long shelf life: Mr Alessi says half are still on sale a decade after their introduction.

Further reading: Mr Alessi discusses how to compete with China in an FT interview.

Adam Jones

Regional bosses in global organisations are like squabbling siblings, desperate to get the attention of bigger bosses working hundreds or thousands of miles away at HQ.

They might benefit from reading IMD prof Cyril Bouquet’s tips on how to become a multinational’s pet foreign subsidiary.

His advice includes a strategy attributed to the CEO of the Australian arm of Yum! Restaurants:

Unlike other subsidiaries that like to import talent, his objective is to export three of his top people every year to other parts of the group. These people are good, they get recognized and the perception is that the Australian subsidiary must be doing something right. So when they need access to more funds, they have managed to build important pillars of influence that help.

Sounds like a clever idea: perhaps Australia’s remoteness from the rest of the world makes such ingenuity imperative.

Elsewhere:

Adam Jones

How can western companies thrive when they are having to cut spending and their customers are doing the same? They should look east to China, says Professor Peter Williamson of the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

In a new FT Management podcast, he argues that the best Chinese companies are models of “cost innovation”. This doesn’t mean expertise in cheap manufacturing alone. Rather, their skill is in entirely rethinking product and market definitions by doing more with less.

This might involve making high-end technology available in low-end products, or exploding an elitist niche market into a mass market, he says.

You can listen to our conversation — and my concerns about whether this is something western companies truly can emulate — on the FT’s podcast player or download the interview (and also subscribe to future episodes) via iTunes.

Adam Jones

Lynda Gratton of London Business School reckons that recession is calling into question the command and control style of corporate leadership:

Many people are now questioning the wisdom of placing so much power in the hands of so few. At the same time, insights from research in decision sciences and technological advances have shown that often the best decisions are made by an “intelligent crowd”, rather than one all-powerful individual.

This is a fissure in the norms of organisational life that could well lead to the acceleration of a more democratic and distributed decision-making process and the idea that leadership can be held by a wider group of people.

Her advice? “Bring diversity back on to the agenda.” I can’t agree more — but can’t see an imminent end to the autocratic reign of the “middle-aged men with similar backgrounds” (her label for the decision-making elite).

That said, her prediction that hard times will lead to more “virtual teams” — as opposed to face-to-face collaboration — is bang on.

Elsewhere:

Adam Jones

A Harvard Business School working paper — more specifically, its witty title — has just made me smile.

‘Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting’ examines how employees do stupid things when their bosses tell them to focus on excessively narrow and demanding targets.

It features a useful ten-point checklist for managers to consult before they set goals for others. I paraphrase:

  • Are the goals too specific?
  • Are they too challenging and what happens if they are not met?
  • Who sets the goals and is the employee adequately involved?
  • Is the time horizon appropriate or does it foster short-termism?
  • How might the goals influence risk-taking and what are the acceptable associated risks?
  • How might the goals promote unethical behaviour and what safeguards are in place?
  • Can they be tailored to individuals while remaining fair?
  • How will they affect the organisation’s culture? Are team goals more appropriate?
  • Do affected staff have an intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivation?
  • Would learning, rather than performance, be a better target?

Further viewing: the FT’s recent series of managerial psychology video lectures by Nick Epley of Chicago Booth business school, particularly the third lecture on motivating staff.

Adam Jones

I’ve said before how much I enjoy Freek Vermeulen’s corporate strategy blog, Random Rantings. The London Business School associate professor is a rising star and his pithy observations are both accessible and authoritative.

So when I was planning a podcast on how the crisis in capitalism is being taught in MBA classrooms, I went straight to the Dutchman and he filled me in on the ways in which he is encouraging students to avoid the idiocy that caused today’s chaos.

Whether they take heed is another matter, of course.

The podcast also includes a discussion with Della Bradshaw, the FT’s business education editor, about its 2009 ranking of MBA programmes. You can listen here or subscribe via iTunes.



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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